Candy Confirmation

Yesterday some well-intentioned soul — or, alternatively, some desperate person who still had a huge amount of leftover trick or treating fare and wanted to finally and conclusively get it out of their house before Thanksgiving — left a bulging, quart-sized bag of various candies by our fifth-floor coffee station.

As expected, the bag quickly looked like it had been attacked by a passing plague of locusts, and it went from packed to picked over in the blink of an eye. But as I passed by on multiple occasions to and from my secretary’s office during the day, I realized the bag also was providing a practical experiment in fifth floor candy preferences.

The mini Snickers and Milky Ways and other interesting chocolate candies were the first to go, followed by mundane Three Musketeers bars. By the end of the day, all of the chocolate candies were gone, but the Skittles and other fruit-flavored options remained. Colorfully packaged, perhaps, but clearly not the preferred route until no other option was left for colleagues desperate for their sugar fix.

Chocolate candies 1, fruit-flavored candies 0, and Three Musketeers somewhere in between. Useful information to keep in mind the next time you’re buying Halloween candy.

Overly Mapled

I’m on the road today, heading to meetings in the Great White North.  Even if I didn’t know I was in Canada, though, I’d still be able to make a pretty good educated guess about my location based on this shelf in the airport convenience store.

Notice a theme here?  It’s all things maple — but does anybody really want maple-flavored caramels?

Kitto Katsu

How does a strawberry maple Kit Kat sound to you?  Or a wasabi Kit Kat?  Or a “butter” Kit Kat?  (Admittedly, I don’t have a sweet tooth, and I don’t care for Kit Kats, but I have to say that the last one sounds especially disgusting.)

dsc02575All of those unusual flavors — and many, many more — are variations of Kit Kat that are available in Japan.  In that land across the Pacific, Kit Kat is one of the most popular candy bars around.  There are about 300 different varieties of the venerable wafer and chocolate bar that you’re supposed to snap apart and share with your friend, and each has its own brightly colored wrapper.  New flavors — like the single stick, dark chocolate, coated in gold leaf Kit Kat that was sold for a short time last December — are developed all the time, too.  Even more strikingly, every region of Japan has its own special flavor of Kit Kat that is sold only in that region.

Why is Kit Kat so popular in Japan?  Well, it’s undoubtedly a classic candy bar, but a lot of the popularity has to do with the name.  Kit Kat sounds a lot like kitto katsu, which is Japanese for “surely win” — an expression of good luck.  When Japanese schoolchildren are getting ready to take their tough, make-or-break college entrance exams, they can expect to get a supply of Kit Kats as exercises in positive thinking from their family and friends.

But purple sweet potato Kit Kats?  I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Candy Care Package

IMG_4740Today Kish is going to travel north for a short visit with Russell, and she’s bringing along a care package of sorts:  a box filled with some vintage candies and a bag of peanut-butter-and-chocolate buckeyes.  It’s the kind of gift that helps to warm a cold winter’s day.

Our rental is located near the Schmidt’s Fudge Haus, which not only offers fresh handmade fudge but also has a ridiculous selection of vintage candies that you probably haven’t seen recently:  Necco Wafers, Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy, Mary Janes, Chuckles, candy cigarettes, yellow gum cigars, Teaberry gum . . . the list goes on and on.  As you walk down the aisle of goodies, looking at candies you haven’t thought of in years, it calls back fresh memories of childhood and strong recollections of precisely how those candies felt and tasted.  Who doesn’t remember the dusty, chalky feel of candy cigarettes and their brittle, sugary crunchiness?  (Not that I am suggesting that you’d want to give them to a young child these days, but things were different back in my smoke-filled childhood.)

I’m guessing that Russell will enjoy dipping into this candy care package.

Mr. Enthusiasm

Yesterday Kish and I had a fine day at our new digs  in German Village. We took some nice walks through the neighborhood and Schiller Park, enjoyed looking at the old homes, discovered a store that sells vintage candy (including Bonamo’s Turkish Taffy, the Great White Whale of hard-to-find candy of yesteryear), and experienced first-hand the straight shot five-minute “commute” to my office.

We had lunch at the Olde Mohawk, a comfortable former speakeasy turned neighborhood joint that I’d never eaten at before. As Kish and I chatted and I was enjoying a very tasty Great Lakes Brewery seasonal Christmas ale and a juicy cheeseburger at the Mohawk, I was brimming with enthusiasm for our new adventure.

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This display of boosterism made Kish smile, because it is a familiar trait. When I quit smoking once and for all more than 20 years ago I promptly began raving about how great it was to be smoke-free and how I couldn’t believe that I — or anyone else for that matter — ever smoked in the first place. When we go on trips overseas I wax rhapsodic about the interesting culture, architecture, and food. When Richard and Russell started at their various institutes of higher learning I praised the almost tangible sense of scholarly purpose those academic bastions exuded.

In short, I tend to approach most ventures — that is, those not involving being a sports sports — with wide-eyed enthusiasm. Why not? There’s time enough for brutal reality to intrude and temper perceptions, but if you can’t be enthusiastic at the outset you’re missing out on part of the fun.

Irrefutable Visual Evidence That Starburst Candy Sucks

We bought too much candy for the wet and rainy Beggars’ Night in New Albany.  Or, more precisely, we bought too much of the wrong candy — namely, Starburst.

IMG_1588On Beggars’ Night, we had our customary basket of multiple candy options to offer trick-or-treaters.  Only the youngest and most inexperienced ghosts and goblins grabbed Starbursts.  Every other Halloweener dug furiously through the contents of the basket, like a dog clawing the ground to uncover a bone, in a desperate attempt to find Butterfingers, Reese’s minis, or even Skittles.  When the last trick-or-treater had rung the doorbell, taken a sad look at what was left in the basket, and departed with a painful sigh, we were left with enough Starbursts to float a small battleship.

We didn’t want them around the house, obviously.  No problem! I thought.  I’ll just take them to the office, plop them next to the coffee station on our floor, and the perpetually hungry denizens of the fifth floor would feel the urge of their sweet tooth and consume all of the candy in the blink of an eye.  Donuts, other baked goods, and anything with chocolate have been known to disappear faster than the speed of light, and occasionally there are tense standoffs as secretaries, paralegals, and attorneys eye the last brownie or piece of birthday cake.  So I put the Starburst in a bag, took it to work, and left it to be rapidly consumed.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I found this half-full bag of Starburst when I was leaving for the day at 6 p.m. tonight.  It is an unheard-of development that speaks volumes about the quality of the candy.  So I decided to conduct the crucial acid test and leave the bag for the overnight cleaning crew to enjoy.  If any Starburst are left tomorrow morning, it can only mean one thing:  Starburst candy truly sucks.

A Rainy Beggars’ Night

IMG_5274It’s a windy, rainy Beggars’ Night tonight — which makes it very difficult to keep our jack o’ lanterns lit.  Although the weather isn’t ideal, we’ve had a decent number of trick or treaters this year — but out of an abundance of caution and a fear that we’re going to be stuck with gobs of leftover candy, we’ve also moved to the “take a handful” approach earlier than normal this year.

A Mean-Spirited Busybody Who Desperately Needs To Learn The True Meaning Of The “Trick” In “Trick Or Treat”

Today NBC’s Today show reported on the Beggars’ Night plans of a Fargo, North Dakota woman who sounds like a hopeless jerk.  Rather than handing out candy to every trick-or-treater, this officious busybody will judge whether the kids showing up at her door are “moderately obese.”  If she concludes that they are, she’ll decline to give them candy and instead will give them a note that reads:

“Happy Halloween and Happy Holidays Neighbor!

“You’re probably wondering why your child has this note; have you ever heard the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’?  I am disappointed in ‘the village’ of Fargo Moorhead, West Fargo.

“You [sic] child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and sweets to the extent of some children this Halloween season.

“My hope is that you will step up as a parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits

Thank you”

This sounds like a fake story, but there are so many judgmental tools in the world it is completely plausible that it is, in fact, the unfortunate truth.  It’s hard to imagine what kind of supercilious dolt would tell a costumed child that they are too fat to get candy, but maybe that’s just the logical end of our increasingly patronizing, nanny-state approach to parenting and nutrition.  Setting aside the misspelling, poor grammar, and bad punctuation, which reveal the author of the note to be a poorly educated pretender, what kind of paragon of physical and ethical perfection does this woman think she is?  Can you imagine living next to such a person?

There’s only one response to this kind of behavior — and it’s why the “trick” is in “trick or treat.”  If I were a kid who got this kind of a note, it would be time to break out the soap, the toilet paper, and maybe the eggs, too.  And if I were the parent of a kid who got such a note, I might “step up” to toss a roll of toilet paper myself.

Chocolate Therapy

Usually when a doctor starts talking about “healthy eating,” you groan inwardly and steel yourself to hearing about leafy green vegetables or other slimy, bitter, or tasteless items.  Now, there’s hope that “healthy eating” won’t limit us to awful foodstuffs that must be choked down over the gag reflex.

A recent study, of more than 37,000 Swedes, indicates that eating chocolate may protect the brain from stroke. Study participants who ate the most chocolate were 17 percent less likely to have a stroke.

That study follows on other research that indicates that consuming chocolate may improve the health of your heart, that chocolate has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-clotting effects, and that chocolate may reduce concentrations of “bad cholesterol” and lower blood pressure.  And — as any true chocoholic knows — munching on some of that dark, sweet goodness is going to improve your mood, too.  It’s a wonder drug!

Of course, researchers warn that you shouldn’t react to the study results by going on a four-Snickers-a-day diet; moderation remains important.  Still, it’s nice to know that when Mother Nature decided on foods that would promote good health, she decided to give us a break now and then.

Searching For The Elusive Easter Basket

On Easter morning 45 years ago, the Webner household would be a beehive of activity.  When the go signal was given, five kids ranging from 11 to 4 would thunder down the stairs and fan out through the household, looking for their Easter baskets.

My mother had this down to a science.  She had scouted all of the good hiding spots, ranked them in order of difficulty, and then assigned them to the kids in order of age.  Jean therefore always got the easiest hiding place — usually somewhere pretty much out in plain sight, perhaps partially behind a chair.  The bright pinks and greens and yellows and purples of the plastic eggs and marshmallow chicks and cellophane wrapping of the chocolate bunnies were like neon signs against the subdued decorations of our home.  We’d hear Jean’s happy cry of discovery, chuckle at the lack of challenge, and redouble our efforts.

Then a second discovery would be made, then a third — and suddenly things started to get a bit more desperate for the remaining searchers.

No one wanted to be the last person to find their basket, searching with increasing shame while Mom gave embarrassing “you’re getting warmer” hints and everyone else was gobbling their goodies.  But some of those hiding spots were awfully tough — like inside the dryer, or under the top of the piano, or tucked away behind the coats in the front closet.  When you finally found your basket, you felt a warm sense of achievement, and then tore into the goodies, scattering the fake plastic grass from the basket across the floor.  The speckled eggs with a hard outer shell and malted milk inside were my favorites.

Then it was time to put on your best Sunday outfit and head off to Sunday school, stoked with an awesome chocolate rush pounding in your ears.

In retrospect, I imagine Sunday school teachers of the day dreaded Easter.

Welcome Advances In Personal Chocolate Technology

As inventors have pushed the envelope in the areas of computers and cell phones, the field of personal chocolate technology has been sadly neglected.

The market would be huge.  What home entertainment area is complete without a device that allows you to create your own chocolate concoctions to nosh on as you watch your DVR’d movie and text your friends after updating your Facebook page?

Now British inventors have stepped into that void with a “chocolate printer”.  The device would allow its owners to create their own 3D chocolate concoctions.  You just melt come chocolate, place it into the printer, and let your creative juices flow.  And what would you rather get for Easter — a paper card with colorful bunnies, or a personalized candy card created by a chocolate printer, complete with its own edible ears?  Willy Wonka would be proud.

Of course, some impatient chocoholics probably couldn’t resist sticking their heads under the printer jet to get the melted chocolate directly from the source.

Feeling That Beggars’ Night Candy Decision Pressure

Next Monday is Beggars’ Night in New Albany.  That means we soon will have to make the high pressure trick-or-treat candy selection decisions that will determine our Halloween cred with the neighborhood kids until next October.  Anybody who once was a kid understands this.  The people in a house can carve a bunch of jack o’ lanterns, dress in a vampire suit, and broadcast scary music, but if their candy selections suck, they inevitably do, too.

There are two crucial decision points for the Halloween candy shopper — type of candy, and volume.  Here’s a good rule of thumb on candies to avoid if you want your house to be respected in the ‘hood:  don’t buy anything that appeared at the office coffee station the morning after Beggars’ Night last year.  That means, in short, that you shouldn’t buy Jolly Ranchers, SweeTarts, or any kind of “healthy candy.”  I also think suckers should be avoided, but that is primarily because our grandmother often terrorized UJ and me with “cautionary” stories about awful disasters that could befall innocent children.  One of the stories was about a sweet-faced child who was running with a sucker in her mouth, tripped, fell face first, and had the white sucker stem smash through the roof of her mouth and impale her brain.  I’m pretty sure Grandma used the phrase “doctors say she was dead as soon as she hit the floor” in recounting this horrible tale.  (You’ve been warned!)

The volume aspect of the candy purchase decision often is ignored by over-confident souls who believe they can buy a bag of “fun-sized” Snickers, Milky Way, and Three Musketeers bars and be done with it.  The volume issue poses its own hazards, however.  Any house that runs out of candy and turns out the porch lights at mid-point on Beggars’ Night is by definition a loser house.  So, you don’t want to run out — but at the same time you don’t want to be sitting in your house come 8 p.m. listening to the siren’s song of irresistible Reese’s Cups.  At our house, we typically experience peaks and valleys in candy distribution.  We start with full bowls and boldly encourage the early arriving kids to take multiple pieces, then panic after the early rush and turn into misers who harangue kids who try to sneak an extra piece — but then by the end of the night we’re basically hurling candy out the door at any random passing kid in order to get rid of the stuff.

The next morning, it’s time to take the Jolly Ranchers to our respective office coffee stations.

Raisins Would Never, Ever Make The Final Four!

Reese’s is running a clever 15-second commercial during NCAA Tournament games.  The ad, linked here, features progressively filled out brackets of the candy “Sweet Sixteen” until chocolate and peanut butter advance to the finals, and then says you can choose both.  Chocolate defeats nougat, coconut, and vanilla to reach the championship game, whereas peanut butter knocks off wafer, almonds, and raisins.

Unfortunately, the ad is ruined by that one, gross error — it shows raisins advancing to the Final Four. Raisins? Raisins?!?!

No self-respecting candy lover would ever choose a raisin-based concoction.  The fact that you can’t even think of a good raisin-oriented candy makes that point clear.  So far as I can tell, in the history of mankind there have been only two candies that featured raisins:  Chunky and Raisinets.  Chunky, which was a thick little brick filled with raisins, nuts, and other debris, was one of the worst candies in history.  Raisinets aren’t quite so bad — but if you had your choice between Goobers and Raisinets when you went to see a movie, wouldn’t you choose Goobers every time?

The fact that raisins made it to the Sweet 16 strongly suggests to me that the candy Sweet 16 was fixed.  First, raisins had to beat cream, then raisins had to beat mint.  There is no way raisins would win either of those matches unless the refs were in the pockets of the California raisin lobby.  The Final Four match-up between peanut butter and raisins must have been the most one-sided game in the history of the candy Final Four.

“Bad Candy” And Guilty Feelings

I admit it — I loved Halloween and trick or treating when I was a kid.  When I was little, we lived in a great neighborhood for maximum candy collection — lots of small houses cheek by jowl in orderly, rectangular blocks.  We then moved out to the suburbs in a neighborhood that was a bit removed; we trick or treated at the 15 or so houses in the neighborhood and that was about it.  By the time we moved to Columbus, I was a teenager and thought I was too cool to trick or treat. 

During the heady Orlando Avenue days in Akron in the early ’60s, the trick or treating rituals were clear and inviolable.  You went out and ran from house to house as quickly as your parents would let you, carrying a pillowcase and looking to accumulate as much candy as possible.  Houses where people left a bowl of candy because they weren’t home were quickly identified and all candy confiscated.  The word spread like wildfire about houses that had “good candy,” like Butterfingers, or Snickers, or Peanut M&Ms, or houses that were passing out “bad candy” — like caramel apples, Chunky, suckers, “hard candy” or, God forbid, toothbrushes. (One of our neighbors was a dentist.)  Trick or treating routes were adjusted accordingly.  Then, when we were sweaty and exhausted and our costumes had begun to fall apart, we would go home, dump the contents of our pillowcases on the floor, and sift through the booty, separating the good from the bad and maybe giving a piece or two to a sister who was too young to go out with us.

I recall there was one house on Orlando where an elderly couple lived.  They always passed out homemade popcorn balls, wrapped in colorful cellophane and tied with ribbons.  We had to go there because they were neighbors and Mom made us.  We would take the popcorn balls, say thank you, toss them in our sacks, and then put them in the “bad candy” pile when we got home.  I didn’t like popcorn balls at all.  They were dry and dusty tasting, and nowhere near as succulent as, say, an Almond Joy.

Now, I kind of feel guilty about not eating those popcorn balls.  I imagine the kindly old lady slaving in the kitchen to make the popcorn balls, beaming with pleasure at the thought that neighborhood tots would savor every bite.  And her courtly husband carefully cut the cellophane and wrapped the popcorn balls, ignoring all the while the pain it caused his no doubt arthritic fingers.  How could I be such an ingrate?

Of course, no parent worth his salt these days would allow his child to eat homemade treats like popcorn balls, anyway.  But when Halloween rolls around I nevertheless think of those folks and carve a pumpkin in their memory.  Now Kish and I are the neighborhood couple with no kids in the house — and we make sure we have “good candy,” just to be sure.